FAWKNER, John Pascoe (1792-1869)


FAWKNER, John Pascoe (1792-1869)
pioneer, a founder of Melbourne
son of John and Hannah Fawkner née Pascoe, was born at London on 20 October 1792. He came to Australia with his father and mother in Lieut.-colonel Collins's (q.v.) expedition, which attempted a settlement in Port Phillip bay near the present site of Sorrento in October 1803, and went to Tasmania in February 1804. His father, though a transported man, does not appear to have belonged to the criminal class, he soon obtained a conditional pardon, and his subsequent life was thoroughly respectable. For some time he had a small farm near Hobart where his son assisted him. In 1814 the young man became a sawmiller and soon afterwards fell into trouble. A letter dated 19 October 1814 from Lieut.-governor Davey (q.v.) to. Lieutenant Jeffreys instructs him that he is to receive on board John Fawkner, "one of those persons who lately absconded from the settlements after committing some most atrocious robberys and depredations, and is under sentence of transportation for five years; he proceeds to Sydney for the purpose of being sent to the Coal river during the period of his sentence, and also to break the chain of a very dangerous connexion he has formed in this settlement". This gives a misleading account of what had occurred. Fawkner's account of this incident, which appears to have been true, was that "a party of prisoners, determined to escape, sought his assistance and that in a moment of foolish sympathy he undertook to help them". (J. Bonwick, Port Phillip Settlement, pp. 281-2).
In 1818 Fawkner was back at Hobart and in 1819 removed to Launceston where he worked as a baker and bookseller. In 1825 he became a timber merchant and at about this time opened the Cornwall Hotel. In 1829 he was defending people in the lower court as an authorized "agent" and in the same year became the proprietor of his first newspaper the Launceston Advertiser. In 1835, like Batman (q.v.) Fawkner was considering the colonization of the Port Phillip district. He communicated his plans to some of his friends and a party was made up to cross the straits. Fawkner sold seven acres of his land in Brisbane-street, Launceston, bought the schooner Enterprise and loaded her with agricultural implements, fruit trees, grain, garden seeds, blankets and tomahawks for the aborigines, and a large stock of provisions. His party consisted of William Jackson, carpenter, Robert H. Marr, carpenter, J. H. Lancey, master mariner, George Evans, plasterer, and four other employees. The Enterprise sailed on 27 July 1835 but met bad weather and Fawkner became so ill that the vessel returned on 30 July and he was landed at George Town. The Enterprise arrived at Western Port on 8 August and afterwards sailed on to Port Phillip and arrived at the mouth of the Yarra on 20 August. On 29 August the vessel anchored near where is now Spencer-street, Melbourne, and four days later everything had been put on shore. On the same day J. H. Wedge (q.v.) as representative of John Batman arrived from Indented Head and informed Fawkner's party that they were trespassing on land bought by Batman from the natives. On the following day they were given a courteous letter repeating this statement and expressing the hope that they would "see the propriety of selecting a situation that will not interfere with the boundaries described in the deed of conveyance". Wedge had no power to eject the party and indeed, in the view of the government at Sydney, both parties were trespassers.
Fawkner arrived on 11 October 1835 an very soon took a leading part in the community. On 6 November he occupied the first house erected in Melbourne and opened a public-house without licence. Soon afterwards he began cultivating land between the river and Emerald Hill, now South Melbourne. But the position of the settlers was very unsatisfactory as no-one had any security of tenure and there was no resident magistrate. On 1 June 1836 a public meeting was held and Fawkner moved resolutions appointing Mr James Simpson as an arbitrator on all questions except those relating to land, and that all subscribing parties should bind themselves not to cause any action at law against the arbitrator. He also proposed the resolution asking Governor Bourke (q.v.) to appoint a resident magistrate, and seconded one pledging the meeting to afford protection to the aborigines. In reply to the petition Captain Lonsdale (q.v.) was appointed police magistrate in September 1836, and he brought with him a party of surveyors to lay out the town. On 1 June 1837 the first sale of crown land was held at Melbourne, and on 1 January 1838 Fawkner published the first newspaper, the Melbourne Advertiser. Seventeen weekly issues appeared, of which the first nine were in manuscript, and the remainder were the first printed publications to appear in Melbourne. The paper was suppressed by Captain Lonsdale because Fawkner had not complied with the newspaper act. On 6 February 1839 he published the first number of the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, at first a weekly, but in July it became a bi-weekly. The advertisement of Fawkner's hotel which appeared in the fourth issue throws an interesting light on him. He says little about what is usually found at hotels but stresses the mental pabulum to be expected. "There are provided seven English and five colonial weekly newspapers, seven British monthly magazines, three British Quarterly Reviews up to October 1837; a very choice selection of Books including Novels, Poetry, Theology, History, etc. N.B. A late Encyclopaedia. Any of those works will be free to the lodgers at the above hotel." Surely no other hotel in the world ever advertised an encyclopaedia among its attractions, but Fawkner really believed in the value of books and education. On 21 November 1840 he published the first number of the Geelong Advertiser.
In November 1841 Fawkner was appointed one of the first market commissioners, and at the first municipal election on 1 December 1842 he was elected one of the councillors for the Lonsdale ward and with two intervals was a member for about three years. In 1845 largely on account of other people not fulfilling their obligations to him, Fawkner became insolvent; fortunately half of his farm of about 800 acres at Pascoe Vale near Melbourne had been settled on his wife and he was able to make a fresh start. In a few years he was again in comfortable monetary circumstances. At the anti-transportation and separation meetings he was a vigorous speaker. He was elected a member of the first legislative council in 1851 and continued to sit until shortly before his death. He watched closely all matters before the house and spoke frequently and with decision. He became an institution in the house and nothing but illness prevented his attendance. He died on 4 September 1869.
Fawkner played many parts in his time. He triumphed over his first mistake, and if he never quite became a popular leader he earned the gratitude and respect of the community he served. He was abstemious in his habits and full of energy; "a short, squat, hard-mouthed little man with a determined chin and a shambling gait, passionate and fiery in his speech." He was in advance of his period in his demand for education, and when Melbourne was little more than a village he could visualize the desirability of a philharmonic society and a university. He founded what was practically the first library in Victoria, and some household relics, preserved in the historical museum at the public library, Melbourne, suggest that essentially he was a man of culture although his outward manners were unpolished. He was quick to realize the needs of his young community and early fought for a magistrate and police, a hospital, water supply, and flood protection. The respective claims of Fawkner and John Batman to be the founder of Melbourne are discussed under Batman, but the latter died about three years after his arrival and for the greater part of that period was a disabled man. Fawkner on the other hand was a power in the land from the beginning and continued to be so for 30 years.
Fawkner married Elizabeth Cobb at Hobart in November 1818. She survived him but there were no children. His portrait is in the historical collection at the public library, Melbourne.
J. Bonwick, Port Phillip Settlement; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. VIII; H. G. Turner, History of Victoria; D. Blair, Cyclopaedia of Australia; R. D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip; The Age, 6 September 1869; The Argus, 6 September 1869; William Westgarth, Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria, pp. 65-71; E. Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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